Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Three Moral Virtues

Another of the blunders which continue to baffle Tarot enthusiasts today is the imagined "missing virtue". In most standard Tarot decks there are three named virtues, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Tarot authors to this day have not bothered to do any sober research on the subject of the virtues. What little research that has been attempted is far-fetched, yielding obscure and tenuous connections. Most, however, prefer to rely on their preconceptions, derived in large measure from 19th-century occultists and their 20th-century parrots. Those earlier writers, along with most Tarot authors today, have only heard a single set of virtues, the set of four Cardinal Virtues. Thus, there is only one grouping of virtues imaginable to them, and the set of three represented in Tarot is necessarily defective and/or hiding a secret.

Even the most superficial examination of the subject (for example, glancing through Katzenellenbogen's Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Mediaeval Art) would reveal that there were many different virtues arranged in a many meaningful groupings. Moreover, the grouping presented in Tarot is one of the most fundamental in the thought of Aristotle and Aquinas, which means, it is Roman Catholic doctrine and known to all who know anything about the virtues. Here is a discussion of the three Moral Virtues from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia

MORAL VIRTUES are those which perfect the appetitive faculties of the soul, namely, the will and the sensuous appetite. Moral virtue is so called from the word mos, which signifies a certain natural, or quasi-natural inclination to do a thing. But the inclination to act is properly attributed to the appetitive faculty, whose function it is to move the other powers to action. Consequently that virtue is called moral which perfects the appetitive faculty. For as appetite and reason have distinct activities, it is necessary that not only reason be well disposed by the habit of intellectual virtue, but that the appetitive powers also be well disposed by the habit of moral virtue. From this necessity of the moral virtues we see the falsity of the theory of Socrates, who held that all virtue was knowledge, as he held that all vice was ignorance. Moreover, the moral virtues excel the intellectual, prudence excepted, in this, that they give not only the facility, but also the right use of the facility, for well-doing. Hence moral virtues are virtues absolutely; and when we say without qualification that a man is good, we mean morally good.

As the proper function of the moral virtues is to rectify the appetitive powers, i.e. to dispose them to act in accordance with right reason, there are principally three moral virtues: JUSTICE, which perfects the rational appetite or will; FORTITUDE and TEMPERANCE, which moderate the lower or sensuous appetite. Prudence, as we have observed, is called a moral virtue, not indeed essentially, but by reason of its subject matter, inasmuch as it is directive of the acts of the moral virtues.

JUSTICE, an essentially moral virtue, regulates man in relations with his fellow-men. It disposes us to respect the rights of others, to give each man his due. Among the virtues annexed to justice are: (1) religion, which regulates man in his relations to God, disposing him to pay due worship to his Creator; (2) piety, which disposes to the fulfillment of duties which one owes to parents and country (patriotism) ; (3) gratitude, which inclines one to recognition of benefits received: (4) liberality, which restrains the immoderate affection for wealth from withholding seasonable gifts or expenses; (5) affability, by which one is suitably adapted to his fellow-men in social intercourse so as to behave towards each appropriately. All these moral virtues, as well as justice itself, regulate man in his dealings with others.

But besides these there are moral virtues which regulate man with regard to his own inner passions. Now there are passions which impel man to desire that which reason forbids and those which hold him back when reason impels him forward; hence there are principally two moral virtues, namely, TEMPERANCE and FORTITUDE, whose function it is to regulate those lower appetites. Temperance it is which restrains the undue impulse of concupiscence for sensible pleasure, while fortitude causes man to be brave when he would otherwise shrink, contrary to reason, from dangers or difficulties.

TEMPERANCE, then, to consider it more particularly, is that moral virtue which moderates in accordance with reason the desires and pleasures of the sensuous appetite attendant on those acts by which human nature is preserved in the individual or propagated in the species. The subordinate species of temperance are: (1) abstinence, which disposes to moderation in the use of food; (2) sobriety, which inclines to moderation in the use of spirituous liquors; (3) chastity, which regulates the appetite in regard to sexual pleasures; to chastity may be reduced modesty, which is concerned with acts subordinate to the act of reproduction. The virtues annexed to temperance are: (1) continence, which according to the Scholastics, restrains the will from consenting to violent movements of concupiscence; (2) humility, which restrains inordinate desires of one's own excellence; (3) meekness, which checks inordinate movements of anger; (4) modesty or decorum, which consists in duly ordering the external movements of the body according to the direction of reason. To this virtue may be reduced what Aristotle designated as eutrapelia, or good cheer, which disposes to moderation in sports, games, and jests, in accordance with the dictates of reason, taking into consideration the circumstances of person, season, and place.

As temperance and its annexed virtues remove from the will hindrances to rational good arising from sensuous pleasure, so FORTITUDE removes from the will those obstacles arising from the difficulties of doing what reason requires. Hence fortitude, which implies a certain moral strength and courage, is the virtue by which one meets and sustains dangers and difficulties, even death itself, and is never through fear of these deterred from the pursuit of good which reason dictates. The virtues annexed to fortitude are: (1) Patience, which disposes us to bear present evils with equanimity; for as the brave man is one who represses those fours which make him shrink from meeting dangers which reason dictates he should encounter, so also the patient man is one who endures present evils in such a way as not to be inordinately cast down by them. (2) Munificence, which disposes one to incur great expenses for the suitable doing of a great work. It differs from mere liberality, as it has reference not to ordinary expenses and donations, but to those that are great. Hence the munificent man is one who gives with royal generosity, who does things not on a cheap but magnificent scale, always, however, in accordance with right reason. (3) Magnanimity, which implies a reaching out of the soul to great things, is the virtue which regulates man with regard to honours. The magnanimous man aims at great works in every line of virtue, making it his purpose to do things worthy of great honour. Nor is magnanimity incompatible with true humility. "Magnanimity", says St. Thomas, "makes a man deem himself worthy of great honours in consideration of the Divine gifts he possesses; whilst humility makes him think little of himself in consideration of his own short-comings". (4) Perseverance, the virtue which disposes to continuance in the accomplishment of good works in spite of the difficulties attendant upon them. As a moral virtue it is not to be taken precisely for what is designated as final perseverance, that special gift of the predestined by which one is found in the state of grace at the moment of death. It is used here to designate that virtue which disposes one to continuance in any virtuous work whatsoever.

The a priori notion that there must be something missing from the group of Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance is just another occultist superstition, maintained as conventional wisdom in the Tarot community today. As to the question of why the three virtues governing the appetites would be included along with other allegories of life in the middle trumps, the most basic answer should be obvious... but in case it isn't...

The middle trumps, those above the Pope and below the Devil, depict the ups and downs of Fortune's Wheel. Successes in love and war, (by extension, in both personal and public life), are represented by Love and the Triumphal Chariot. Reversal of fortune is indicated by Father Time, also described as the Old Man or Hunchback, and the Wheel itself. (Some decks turn Time into a Hermit, morphing his hourglass attribute into a lantern, suggesting a voluntary rejection of the worldly successes of Love and the Chariot.) Betrayal, represented by the Traitor or Hanged Man, was an archetypal downfall of the great, leading to Death. The tragic narrative arc, from triumphs and reversals to catastrophe and death, is known as the Fall of Princes, because nobles are the traditional subject of tragedy. Dramatic elements such as the Triumphal Chariot and the Hanged Traitor are appropriate to such princely narratives. By extension, however, this is an allegory of Everyman’s life, where triumphs and betrayals are more mundane but the joys, pains, and mortality are just as real. Long before Tarot was invented, Boccaccio wrote an influential encyclopedia of such rise-and-fall narratives in the form of moralized biographies, The Examples of Famous Men, (De Casibus Virorum Illustrium or The Fall of Princes in Lydgate's translation).

This is the section of the trump hierarchy where the three Moral Virtues occur. In decks where they are shown with the successes (Love and Chariot) the meaning is clear: No level of success, nor even moral virtue, can protect one from the vicissitudes of reversal, leading to downfall and death. This also was a typical element in the De Casibus tales. In the most coherent and sophisticated ordering a far more complex and carefully designed cycle is observed. Each of the three sections of the Fall of Princes cycle is triumphed over by one of the three Moral Virtues, and each one is appropriate to that section of the cycle. Success in love and war confers dominion, husband over wife and victor over vanquished. The appropriate virtue for the exercise of dominion is Justice, which triumphs over these two cards. The reversals of Time and Fortune are hardships to be endured with Fortitude, and Fortitude is a conventional "remedy" for turns of Fortune. Finally, although no virtue can literally triumph over Death in this world, Tarot de Marseille -- the deck with this ordering -- is also the only deck in which Temperance is turned into an angel! The winged figure triumphing over Death is naturally a psychopomp, a guide for the soul after death. The water mixed with wine (a conventional attribute of Temperance) becomes the saving sacrament, which is also water mixed with wine, where it symbolizes the dual nature of Christ.

The three Moral Virtues are not only a complete set, with no "missing virtue". They are also precisely the virtues which one would most expect to be represented in a cycle showing allegories of life. Beyond that, in the one pre-Gébelin Tarot deck showing a detailed systematic design throughout, the three Moral Virtues were specifically matched to the three turns of Fortune's Wheel, making the design of the middle trumps a cognate for Petrarch's Remedies for Good and Bad Fortune as well as for Boccaccio's Fall of Princes. Understanding the Moral Virtues in Tarot illuminates both the childish ignorance of the occultists and also the genuine conceptual complexity and brilliance of Tarot, an architectonic masterpiece of didactic art.